With tears in her eyes, my normally enthusiastic and cheerful daughter clung to me tightly as we both sat on her bed at bedtime. Despite my hugs and encouraging words of “You’ll be fine,” she seemed unable to receive comfort.
Her first performance in The Music Man was just three days away, and she was overwrought with fear and anxiety like I’d never seen in her before.
She had diligently memorized her lines and had done well in the dress rehearsal that night, so it seemed probable that she would do well in her performance.
But we’ve all been gripped with those irrational, all-consuming fears before, right? We can understand how crippling those emotions can be.
We’ve dealt with those emotions on our own (and that’s tough enough!) but as parents, how are we supposed to guide our little kids through these big emotions?
Our first instinct is to fix them like we bandage their scrapes and soothe their sore tummies. We want a remedy and a solution, but we quickly learn that there’s not always an easy-to-follow answer.
Empathy, Compassion (and Practical Way to Help Kids Handle Emotions)
When I find myself caught in these “I-have-no-idea-how-to-help-you” moments with my kids, God reminds me of this simple mindset: How would you want someone to help you through this?
I don’t say that to mean that we should comfort our hurting child in the exact same ways that we’d want to be comforted. Instead, I’m saying that I’ve found it helpful to simply first offer my kids respect for their emotions and then space to process the emotions in a way that is helpful to them.
Of course, expressing emotion in a healthy way is rarely something that any of us are born with. That’s why we parents also have a second role here: to offer healthy alternatives to process all that they’re feeling. We need to find that careful balance of giving them space to process while still offering potential helpful solutions.
This looks different for every child (none of my four kids deal with emotions in exactly the same way!) but one powerful remedy is to encourage a child to write down or to draw their emotions.
I recently discovered a great tool for helping younger kids not just put their emotions on paper but to give them up to God: Worry Eaters.
Worry Eaters are soft, adorable plush animals that give kids a unique and positive way to deal with difficult emotions.
Kids can simply write or draw what about their emotions and then place it inside the Worry Eater’s zippered pouch. This simple-yet-brilliant concept has won Worry Eaters multiple awards from the toy industry and from parenting groups.
A Transitional Tool for Teaching Kids to Give Their Fears to God
Worry Eaters isn’t necessarily a faith-based product, and of course we want our kids to put their hope in Christ during tough times (and not a plush doll).
However, I do have to say that I’ve seen how “Bill” (the given name of my daughter’s Worry Eater) has been an excellent transitional method for my daughter to learn to give up her fears to something outside herself.
It can be hard (especially for our littlest kids) to understand such an intangible concept as putting faith in something they can’t see or touch (like God). My daughter loves Jesus with all her heart and has a very active relationship with Him, but I know that “Bill” helps act as a tangible way for her to express and release her most troubling concerns to God.
As an example, let’s go back to that night when my daughter was struggling with immense anxiety about her upcoming performance.
As my daughter and I sat on her bed, we prayed for her to have peace and confidence. I prayed that her heart would be able to discern truth from emotion and that she could be released from the half-truths that were plaguing her psyche.
However, after our prayer, I also encouraged her to write down what she was feeling on a scrap piece of paper and to give it to “Bill” so that he could hold onto it for her.
Did she know that God was the one really holding her fears? Yes. We talked about that.
But this simple ritual of writing her fears down and tangibly giving them to Bill made that release to God more final and complete for her. She was able to link a tangible process to an intangible concept. And she fell asleep hugging Bill, her worried look now replaced with one of peace.
It reminds me of a ceremony I’ve done many times throughout the years while at church retreats (you’ve probably done it too). After a powerful, convicting message (usually on a Saturday night of a weekend retreat), a retreat leader encourages everyone to write down their fears or sins or whatever it is that is keeping them from God on a piece of paper; and then after that participants are encouraged to either nail that paper to a wooden cross or to throw it in a campfire. It’s a symbolic way of releasing those deep emotions we’re carrying.
Releasing Emotions as Stepping Stones of Faith
Dealing with these emotions is never easy for parents or kids, but these difficult situations are also an incredible opportunity for our kids to start those baby steps of trusting God on their own.
It’s so beautiful when our kids can step out in faith (even in the tiniest of ways) or put what they’ve learned about God by tangibly trusting Him through difficult times. When they get through the situation and look back, the challenging emotions are transformed into a beautiful stone in a monument of God testimonies they’re building in their heart.
As hard as it can be for us to watch, our kids need to learn how to face these difficult emotions! They need to feel the difference in their heart between trusting God with their emotions and trying to deal with the emotions themselves.
While my daughter is usually quick to share with me about how she may be struggling, I’m grateful that her Worry Eater is another practical way for her to release her emotions and connect deeply with God.
I know that my daughter will one day outgrow her Worry Eater, but for now, “Bill” is one of those special, well-loved plush friends that brings my daughter comfort when she’s struggling through overwhelm and anxiety.
I love that she sleeps with him every night and squeezes him especially tight when fears plague her heart.
FTC Guidelines: This post is written by me for Worry Eaters. I received compensation for writing this post, but the opinions are my own and based on my personal experience.